How to cultivate diversity, equity and inclusion i...

How to cultivate diversity, equity and inclusion in your workplace

"Finding ways to not only hire but promote diverse voices within the workforce still challenges some firms, and the outcome of avoiding or failing to act on these key initiatives can be significant and long term."

diversity equity and inclusion in the workplace

Photo credit: RF._.studio from Pexels

Whether you own a business, are moving up the ranks as an employee or come in as a regular customer, how a company embraces diversity, equity and inclusion should be as clear as the name on the front door.

A company’s commitment to equality needs to be obvious to all, discussed regularly and celebrated often, according to four Metro Detroit women who have created firms that help mom-and-pop shops as well as Fortune 100 giants tackle this important work. 

Finding ways to not only hire but promote diverse voices within the workforce still challenges some firms, and the outcome of avoiding or failing to act on these key initiatives can be significant and long term. Although high-profile news events — such as the death of George Floyd in May — may spark fresh conversations, the effort to support DEI at work or throughout a person’s life and a company’s day-to-day operations is a continual journey, these experts agree. 

“It is not just the right thing to do from a moral perspective. It is the right thing to do as a business imperative and from a societal perspective,” said Darlene King, executive director of the Michigan Diversity Council in Lansing.

“Statistically, organizations that have gender diversity outperform businesses without gender diversity by 15%. When you add racial, ethnic and gender diversity all together, those companies outperform other companies by 35%,” King said. “You’re looking at a huge increase in terms of creativity of thought, community engagement, employee engagement and profitability.”

Just as important are the statistics that show what happens when a business makes DEI issues a once-a-year event or an item they can check off and complete, said Jyarland Daniels, President and Founder of Harriet Speaks, a West Bloomfield firm that partners with organizations to communicate and develop strategies that support diversity and inclusion related to race. 

“43% of American workers believe discussions about race are inappropriate at work, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management,” Daniels said. “And race itself is a topic that is hard to talk about, but where is the conflict resolution work happening? Where are the norms for conversation? Where is that training? Because providing an environment for people to have a conversation without teaching them how to have those conversations can actually create more problems.” 

Elizabeth Whittaker-Walker, Principal of Raymond Whittaker Design

DEI and its lessons are especially important in Metro Detroit because the city itself as well as its suburbs are among the most diverse in the nation, said Elizabeth Whittaker-Walker, Principal of Raymond Whittaker Design LLC, a consulting firm committed to equity-leadership and organizational development. 

“When we have diverse voices equitably represented at multiple levels of leadership as well as a variety of decision making, the conversation is richer. The strategy is richer. A company’s policies and practices are richer,” Whittaker-Walker said.

How can you help promote diversity, equity and inclusion? Here are some suggestions, no matter your role: 

What CEOs and organization leaders can do:

“It starts at the top. They set the tone,” said Nikki Pardo, founder of Global Alliance Solutions, a consulting company that offers simulation-based customized diversity training for corporations, non-profit agencies, school districts, and law enforcement agencies. She also is co-founder of The Pack, a community-based project that hosts conversations linked to inclusion, equity and community throughout Detroit.

“In 2020, senior leadership can’t say that they can’t find diverse talent. There are so many professional organizations out there for BIPOC as well as college and universities where you can create pipelines,” Pardo said. “I recently read an article about Deloitte hiring a person who is exclusively recruiting at historically Black colleges — that’s how deep their commitment is to diversifying the workplace.” 

The Chief Executive Officer needs to understand that you not only have to be a leader of the organization but you have to lead from an inclusive leadership lens, King said. “It’s not about delegation. This work touches every facet of the organization both internally and externally. Because it does, you cannot just delegate and not be engaged. You have to do both,” she added.

Whittaker-Walker suggests that CEOs track employee attitudes and concerns through surveys. She also believes in extensive training, mentorships and leadership training.

“One place to start is to look at your organization’s core values and mission. Look at your policy manual or your employee handbook. Where does equity come up? Is there a core value around it? How is that being lived out?” Whittaker-Walker said. 

Daniels said CEOs also need to look at their “Circle of 10,” or the people who are closest to her or him. 

“There are people in this country, whether we want to admit it or not, who do not have personal relationships or friendships with people of race, sexual orientation or ethnicities that are different from their own,” Daniels said. 

What employees and managers can do:

Employees may not always feel like they have a position of power or authority in a company to influence cultural shifts within their organizations –– but that needs to change, King said.

“My recommendation to those that are managers or supervisors or long-term employees is to not get jaded with the status quo of things that are not right,” King said. “If you see something that is not right, say something. The late John Lewis said it best: ‘Let’s get into good trouble.’ When you are advocating for what’s right, it’s not about who’s right. It’s about what’s right.”

“Don’t be afraid to go to your supervisor and managers to ask, ‘What are we doing around DEI? What’s going on with our corporate culture?’ Everyone is not going to get it — some won’t. Some will say they’re fine. But if you feel that this culture you’re operating in is not inclusive, equitable or values diversity, there is no law that says you have to stay there,” King added. 

What job seekers can do:

Job seekers and new employees also can have an impact, experts agreed. 

“If diversity, equity and inclusion is important to a job applicant, they should find a way to talk about that in their cover letter and interview,” Daniels said. “But don’t make it up because it is en vogue right now. But if DEI is important to a job seeker, you need to find a way in that process to connect to what the company is doing.”

What customers and clients can do:

The power of the pen — or the social media account — is a key for customers, King said. 

“Our disposable income is just that — we have the ability to spend it wherever we want, however we want to spend it. If we choose to continue to support vendors, retailers or entities that don’t celebrate others because they don’t look, sound, come from where they come from then we have a few options,” King said. “We can spend our money somewhere else. But let it be known! Technology has caused us to forget some very simple, basic things that are still powerful. The power of the pen is amazing.”

What entrepreneurs can do: 

Starting a new business gives you an opportunity to bake DEI right into the mix. 

“Entrepreneurs are near and dear to my heart, so they need to know that if they’re doing work in the city of Detroit, they need to make sure that the staff reflects the community when you’re hiring,” Pardo said. 

One of Daniel’s clients put it best when they compared building a business and having DEI in the foundation to baking a cake. 

“How you want it to turn out depends on the ingredients you use while baking the cake,” Daniels said. “Once you get it baked, it’s very difficult to come back later and say now you need to be more inclusive. It is possible, but it also is more challenging.”

How to dig deeper into diversity, equity and inclusion:

Familiarize yourself with the baseline problems, with a detailed look at challenges Black women face navigating race and gender at work, as well as how structural racism shows up in the office — just recently, we learned that Black workers were more likely to face retaliation for bringing up COVID-19 safety concerns. And look back at the fight for gender equality, still ongoing, in a retrospective from people who worked for the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Are you the one leading changes? Begin by defining the terms, then see 10 steps to take when you’re getting started. Look at an example of DEI strategic planning across a large organization from the University of Michigan, and get resources for DEI at nonprofits. You can assess your org’s DEI with a (paid) tool from the Michigan Nonprofit Association. If you’re working remotely, DEI might be more of a challenge — but there’s a toolkit for that, too. And put beliefs into practice with research-tested DEI efforts.

There’s plenty you can do from the middle and lower levels, too. Struggling to figure out how to voice your concerns? Get some coaching on how to confront your boss, or check the Ask A Manager archives for professional conversation scripts. Because words matter — even grammar plays a role when promoting equality. Get specific advice on responding to microaggressions and learn how to be a good ally in the workplace

Are you an employee who’s wondering if your workplace is marginally toxic — or actually violating your rights? Check the guide from ACLU of Michigan.

Karen Dybis is a Metro Detroit freelance writer. She is the author of four Detroit history books including "Better Made in Michigan" and "The Witch of Delray." Her bylines can be found on Parents.com, the Detroit Free Press, Corp! magazine and many others.